Monthly Archives: May 2014

Asparagus Your Way

If, like me, you’ve been unable to master the seemingly universally touted method for removing the woody ends of asparagus spears (bending and snapping),don’t worry. When I researched the subject of asparagus storage and preparation recently,I discovered that opinions among authorities on the best approach to trimming and other subjects vary a lot.

In his book How To Cook Everything (copyright 2008, Double B. Publishing), Mark Bittman subscribes to the bend and snap method, but an illustration shows the left hand positioned at the center of the stalk instead of at the extreme end, making it less likely that you’ll break the spear too short. Also, Bittman advises peeling all but the slenderest stalks to just below the tip, a technique I disliked because it rendered them too limp to pick up and eat.

On the other hand, in The Gourmet Cookbook (copyright 2004, Conde Naste Publications), editor Ruth Reichl suggests peeling the lower portion of spears (except those that are pencil thin), admitting however that the now defunct magazine’s kitchen often didn’t. And while every asparagus recipe in the book calls for “trimming,” what the term means or how to do it is not explained.

In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One (copyright 1961, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), authors Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck recommend removing the entire outer casing ( going deeper at the base and getting shallower as you move to the tip) and using a paring knife not a vegetable peeler. There’s nothing about snapping off the ends.

Considering the diversity of opinion, I guess I’ll continue following the approach that has always worked for me: Chopping off about an inch-and-a-half from the bottoms with my chef’s knife and then peeling another inch or two with a vegetable peeler.

There is some consensus concerning storage. Everyone agrees that asparagus is best when consumed the day it is purchased and if kept longer should be refrigerated for no more than a few days. Most suggest standing the spears up in a few inches of water and shrouding with a plastic bag before refrigerating. However, Bittman says it’s also fine to skip the water and simply wrap asparagus loosely in plastic wrap before refrigerating.

Also, I was glad to learn that the idea that thinner spears are younger and tenderer is a myth. They are thin or thick from the start, and the thinner ones will not thicken as they mature. Apparently, I’m not the only one who prefers the thicker, meatier ones. Reichl especially prefers them for roasting or grilling.

Mismatched Magic

If I were hosting a lawn party for a crowd, I can just imagine myself fretting that I didn’t have enough of the same coverings for all the tables. But the mismatched décor-every old-fashioned tablecloth displaying a dramatically different print-contributed so much charm to the outdoor potluck party that I had the pleasure of attending at a country neighbor’s home yesterday. Tiny vases-not one the same as another- filled with small stalks of homegrown lilacs, and assorted votive candles were the perfectly imperfect centerpieces.

Just as we no longer believe that handbags should be coordinated with shoes, the beauty in table décor can be in mixing and matching.

Cookout Conundrum

Hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and coleslaw are the menu traditions for holidays like Memorial Day. But since I’m always trying to impress (definitely one of my downfalls), I dream of amazing guests by serving something spectacularly different. Then, I fear that folks will be disappointed not to find their holiday favorites. What’s a hysterical hostess to do?

It occurred to me that compromise might be the solution, and somewhere in my food reading this month that suggestion was offered. So hot dogs, yes, but with a selection of fun toppings. (Put Hot Dogs into the search slot to see my post about the Culinary Historians of New York meeting that featured just such a buffet.) Or dress up the coleslaw, as a local market in my neighborhood did by adding pineapple chunks and apple sauce. Though neither of us are lovers of fruit in our savory dishes, my husband and I found this update delightfully refreshing. Then there’s the doctored baked beans that Ree Drummond demonstrated on her Food Network Show, The Pioneer Woman Cooks. A link to the recipe is below. Whatever you do, have fun. Happy holiday!